I ran a 50 miler. That feels a little surreal to write. I’m sitting here, 3 days after my run, feeling a little sore, less sore than yesterday, but overall I feel okay, and thinking back on the race. If you’re interested in how I picked this 50 miler, and some info about my training, check out my earlier posts. I also plan to outline the gear I packed, how that worked, etc. in a future post.
This race was simultaneously the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and also, some of the most beautiful trails, and good experiences. At the pre-race meeting, the race director spoke directly to first-timers and told us that we weren’t running a 50 miler because it was fun, we were doing it because it was hard. That statement resonated with me, and he also said something to the effect of, “you’re going to want to quit, but don’t quit because you’re tired, you’ve got to push through.” I wanted to push through.
A bit of background: Run Rabbit Run has been doing this for a while. This year, 2016, was the 10th year of the 50 mile race, and the 5th year of the 100 mile race. I did find myself walking around that weekend telling people I was, “only running the 50 miler.” Yeesh. The 100 milers started on Friday, with ‘turtles’ starting at 8am, and ‘hares’ starting at noon. Their race cutoff was 8pm on Saturday night. For the 50 milers, we started at 6am on Saturday, with a 15 hour time limit, and cutoff at 9pm. Some of course overlapped, but the 100 milers mostly ran a big loop, while the 50 milers ran an out and back course to Rabbit Ears Pass.
Heading into this race, and thinking about how I will mentally push myself through, I was using the nine sections outlined in the official course description. I made a little laminated card that outlined the mileage for each section, the cumulative mileage, the start and end points, the feet lost and gained, and little notes, like if my drop bag was there, or for Dumont that my friend would be volunteering there. Bite-size chunks are easier to get down, right? None of these 9 segments was longer than 7 miles. I could do that! I also wrote out the paces for different finishing times. I worked really hard not to think about a goal finish for this race. I had no idea how the altitude and also the big climbs would affect me out there. Here’s a rundown, section by section, warning: it’s long!
Section 1 – Start to Mt. Werner
Okay, 6am start at the bottom of Gondola Square. It’s dark; sunrise won’t be for another 45 minutes. It’s cold; temps were in the high 30s, but where I’m from we think it’s chilly if we dip into the 50s by now. Even though it’s cold, I’m a little overdressed. I quickly take off my Patagonia Houdini at the start and stow it in my hydration pack. That leaves me in a tank top, my long sleeve micro-weight Smartwool top, and some gloves. I also take the buff off my head and tie it onto my pack. We’ve all got headlamps, and we’re lining up. Just before we can start, the first 100 miler runs it in. The timing was perfect. We all cheer. Then we all quickly turn our attention back to our own race.
The gun goes off. This section is all climbing. About 4000 feet in just over 6 miles. I start hiking. I don’t want to run any of this portion. We climb, and climb, and climb. We’re also running all on fire road. I chatted with a few other racers. Some first timers. I spoke to one guy for a while – it’s his second fifty – he compliments my hiking and tells me I’ll make it before sunset. At mile 3, we have an opportunity to ditch our headlamps. I keep mine and stow it in my pack. I’m not convinced I’ll beat the sunset to the finish.
I get slower and slower as we climb up. My splits here were 16:10, 16:33, 16:57, 17:15, 17:37, and 18:50. Sometime after 6 miles I hit the aid station. I think I grabbed some food.
Section 2 – Mt. Werner to Long Lake
My notes on this section were that I could run it, but it didn’t start out so easy. I ran/walked, and I started getting passed by a lot of people. I started to think that including hiking in my training really did work! There were some fast people that I beat up that first climb. I remember this section went pretty quickly for me. Before I knew it, I was at the Long Lake Aid station. I stopped there for a bit to re-organize my pack, strip off my long sleeve, and grab some food. The volunteers were making egg and bacon burritos with potato chips in them – they were AMAZING!! My splits in this sections were 15:29, 13:40, 14:10, 15:16, 14:16, and 12:14.
Section 3 – Long Lake to Base Camp
Okay, I’m settling into a groove now. At times, I regretted taking off the long sleeve, but I had shoved it deep into my pack, and didn’t want to stop to retrieve it. I think this stretch is the most runnable yet, and I’m enjoying being out there. The single track is gorgeous. We are surrounded by tall trees, and I miss tall trees so much. All the trees in Oklahoma are so damn short. And then, we hit the climb to Base Camp. In my research, I didn’t realize how much of a climb, because most of the climbing between miles 6 and 44 looks like nothing compared to that beast to get up the mountain. I walk a good deal here. I got to Base Camp, and they had my drop bag, but I only stopped briefly to grab some food and kept going. Onward!! My splits here were 19:43, 12:54, 13:44, 13:49, and 15:54.
Section 4 – Base Camp to Dumont
I left Base Camp on a fire road, and had been warned by other runners, by the race director, but anyone that would tell me that there was a tricky turn that many others had missed, and that I should pay attention for. It wasn’t too tricky. I think they’re just overcompensating now for others that have missed it in the past, maybe when it wasn’t as well marked. Back on single-track, running through fields. I actually felt like this section reminded me of parts of the Western States Trail when you get close to Auburn.
Now that we’re friends, I feel like I can share this with you, but I didn’t poop before my race. I tried. And for a while, I thought I would be okay, but on this section, I really needed to poop. I had been peeing off trail consistently once per section, but I always hesitate to poop in the woods. None of the aid stations had port-o-potties! I kept chugging along, and then, like an oasis in the desert, I came across some campsites, and then an outhouse, with a toilet (composting). YAY! I pooped, I felt so much better after that.
Then, I rolled into Dumont to cheering friends! Two people that traveled up with us from Oklahoma, and two others that had registered, but for various reasons, planned to DNF were all hanging out at Dumont to cheer us in. Dumont really was the party aid station. There were so many people there. This is the aid station where if you had a crew, they could come out. They also had port-o-potties. Here’s where I saw my fellow runner from home, Andy. At this point, and throughout the race, I had two OK runners in front of me, and two behind. We chatted briefly before I ran off. From Dumont, you run uphill to Rabbit Ears Pass, and then come back down. Rabbit Ears is the 25 mile turn-around for the race. Andy had just finished that section, and I was just heading out. I think his parting comment was something about Rabbit Ears being really fucking tough, and he was glad it was over. He then looked at me and apologized.
My splits into Dumont were 17:39, 13:00, 14:11, and 15:07.
Section 5 – Dumont to Rabbit Ears to Dumont
Out and back, this is easy, Andy just did it, oh, look, there’s Ryan, another OK runner. Ryan’s encouraging words to me were, “Don’t even run going out, hike, and run coming back. Save your quads.” Done! I hiked. My slowest splits were here.
At first, the incline didn’t seem so bad. I was moving up hill, trying to hike quickly. And then I saw Rabbit Ears in the distance. I think I still had two miles to go, and my thoughts were there was no way that I could get up that high in two miles. I kept hiking, and the inclines kept getting steeper. Andy had mentioned ‘hands on knees’, and I at one point, I was just securing my footing to not slide down.
This was tough. I made it up to the top. Along the way, there was lots of cheering from other runners, from hikers just out for the day. We all knew how hard this was. Once at the top, I stopped for a selfie, and then scooted back down the big hill to start my trek back. My fifty miler was halfway complete. I hit the halfway point just a hair over 6.5 hours in. It was then that I realized the largest climbs were behind me, and maybe I could make the finish in 13 hours. That would mean I would come in before 7pm, and before sunset at 7:15.
I did run back from Rabbit Ears, but not before slipping a few times down the steepest parts of the climb. I passed two more of my OK runners as I was heading out, they were both less than a mile behind me. I ran back into Dumont, I gave my friend my wedding band – as everything on my was swollen at this point. I grabbed some food, used the facilities and then started back to Base Camp. Splits for this turnaround were 16:55, 17:33, 22:25, 16:39, and 12:39.
Section 6 – Dumont to Base Camp
I left Dumont feeling good. I had a time goal in mind. But shortly after leaving Dumont, I starting getting tired, it was a lot harder to run than I remembered. I tried alternating between running and walking, not letting myself walk to long, but it was tough. I just focused on getting to Base Camp. That would be 32 miles, up until this day, my distance PR. Now, in hindsight, I can see that the way back had a lot more climbing than I anticipated. I think this was contributing to my difficulties.
Oddly, I think in pep-talking another runner, I pep-talked myself. I ran into a runner who had really bad IT band issues. We came into Base Camp together. We talked about how no matter what, even if we hiked all of the rest, we would still finish under the 15 hour limit. I picked up my drop bag, took some ibuprofen, restocked food, and headed back out. Splits into Base Camp were 16:21, 12:29, 16:25, and 16:43.
Section 7 – Base Camp to Long Lake
I think I turned it around at this point. The ibuprofen took some of the edge off. I was determined to run some of this course. I really wanted to make it in before 7pm, but I could see my average time ticking slower and slower. I remembered that this stretch of running was my favorite coming out, and it was equally beautiful going back. Even though I was running more, I started to doubt that I would make that sub 7pm time. In order to make that work, I would have to run down the last six miles and 4000 feet. I tried to make peace with the idea that the time goal may be just out of reach, but that I could still have a strong finish.
I came into Long Lake feeling good. They fed me a grilled cheese. I chatted with some other runners. I was excited that I only had a half marathon left. At this point, we were also rejoining the 100 miler course. There were 100 milers, and they needed enthusiasm on the course. Splits into Long Lake were 16:58, 16:48, 15:02, 14:27, and 19:22.
Section 8 – Long Lake to Mt. Werner
This is the longest stretch between aid stations, but I was optimistic. I only had to run a half-marathon. I could do this!! I basked in the single track beauty, and I also got a boost from both cheering on every runner I passed – and PASSING RUNNERS! I was passing runners. The competitive part of me got such a boost from this. I would walk up the climbs and run all the flats and downs. It was good. I just wanted to be done. In a way, I was even considering that Mt. Werner kind of is the end, because those last six miles are just the killer descent down to the finish.
I came into Mt. Werner knowing I should eat, but not wanting anything in my pack (I’ll talk nutrition in another post). The great volunteers suggested broth. It was perfect. I downed some broth, drank a little bit of Coke, and then I scooted right back out. Splits into Mt. Werner were 15:08, 16:35, 14:36, 15:57, 17:31, 15:44, and 19:20.
Section 9 – Mt. Werner to the Finish
Now was the time. If I could run, I should run. At this point, I rolled out of the Mt. Werner aid station, and my watch said 5:44 pm. I had 76 minutes to run down the mountain if I wanted to go sub-13 hours. And you know what, I fucking ran.
I started running to see how it felt, and it didn’t feel horrible. Once or twice, I tried slowing to a walk, and then bumped it back up to a run again. So, 6+ miles, and 4000 feet of elevation and I brought it down. About halfway down, I realized I could keep going, and sub-13 could happen. In fact, I ran down so fast, that my cheering squad – the two runners that came in ahead of me, and some other friends from OK, nearly missed my finish, because they weren’t expecting me. My final splits were 11:35, 10:01, 10:07, 10:12, 11:03, 11:31, and a final 9:38 for the final 0.1 miles.
After I finished, we still had two more runners to cheer in. I got a quick shower and went back out. I surprisingly felt okay. Nothing was too painful. I just had an overall soreness, and most of that has subsided.